The Mandate and The Basics

The Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything. (John 14:25)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus, to the Apostles, at the Last Supper. He was explaining to them what would happen after He ascended into heaven. [Spanish]

That was the beginning of the Catholic Church. The Lord Jesus had taught the Apostles many things while He was on the earth. He would teach them other things from heaven. As He promised, after He ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church.

In our first reading at Sunday Mass, from the Acts of Apostles, we read St. Luke’s account of the first Church Council. The situation was this: The Apostles had gone out from Jerusalem to preach the Gospel. In the surrounding countries, both Jews and non-Jews came to believe.

circumcison knifeNow, some of the first non-Jewish Christians had heard–from somebody–that they were supposed to keep the Law of Moses. The uncircumcised non-Jewish men, who feared God but also feared pain, were not sure that they wanted to. Baptized into Christ, yes. But minor surgery in a particularly sensitive area? Really?

So the Apostles gathered back together again in Jerusalem to try to deal with this honest question. They prayed and debated. Then the Council composed a letter, to be read aloud to confused Gentile Christians in Syria.

As it turned out, the uncircumcised men had nothing to fear. It is not the will of God that adult men who seek Baptism also have to be circumcised. It is not necessary. The Lord Jesus shed all the blood that needed to be shed.

Confusion had arisen because: Someone had told the Gentile converts otherwise. As we heard the Apostles’ letter say, “Some of our number went out without any mandate from us and upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.”

This is a crucial sentence. The Apostles condemned those who taught their own doctrines without any mandate from us.

To teach the true religion, the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ himself–to teach God’s religion—that requires a mandate.  No one can give himself authority to teach the Gospel or preside over the sacraments.

As the Lord Jesus explained, the Holy Spirit governs the Church. And He gives the mandate to teach and preside, through St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors in office.

Kyle O'Connor

Now, a non-Catholic might say “Look here, popish brother. My mandate is this here Holy Bible.”  Fair enough. We Catholics love the Bible, too.

But we reply, “Dear Brother, if you please: Open the Bible; give the New Testament a thorough read. Lord Jesus never handed anyone a book. He never handed anybody a Bible and said, “This is your mandate. Set up shop for yourself.”  He never did that.

Christ chose His Apostles, consecrated them at the Last Supper, gave them the sacraments, and sent them on their mission. As the Apostles were performing their sacred mission, they wrote the New Testament. The Church came first, the written gospels second.

That said, the New Testament certainly remains our unfailing guide to the true doctrine which originated with Christ. Just like the New Testament would not exist, had not the Church written it, the Church cannot endure without constant, prayerful study of the New Testament. But without the living mission of the Church, the Bible is a dead letter. The New Testament is not an independent book. It is a family heirloom of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Maybe some will remember two seminarians we had here, back in the summers of 2013 and 2014. Excellent, inspiring young men. On Saturday, bishop will ordain them priests.

Kyle and Dan will become priests in a scandal-plagued Church. I did, too, sixteen years ago yesterday. Takes a certain kind of guts, to become a priest under these circumstances. Or a certain kind of faith. Or a certain kind of lunacy.

Dan MolochkoWe poor priests find ourselves caught between two poles. On the one hand, people who read widely know: the Catholic Church in the U.S. may not survive. The McCarrick Affair has destroyed what little trust we had in the hierarchy.

One the other hand, our bishops and pope basically carry on as if we were at Situation Normal. ‘McCarrick? What McCarrick? What cover-up? What catastrophic betrayal of trust? Who? Us?’

God never promised that any particular parish, or diocese, or even whole nation of dioceses, would survive forever. But He did endow his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church with an indestructible center of gravity, which will survive until He comes again in glory.

The New Testament. Our Creed. Our sacraments. Our prayers. Our way of life, based on the Ten Commandments.

Back when I studied in the seminary, clinging to the basics of the faith was regarded as backwards, déclassé, retrograde. But I think time has proven the wisdom of clinging to the basics. For dear life.

Let’s cling. And march on.

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Pruned by Humble Faith

“I am the vine, you are the branches…By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
(John 15:1-8, the gospel at Holy Mass today)

I know my memory is slipping, but I could have sworn that I just gave you a homily on this very passage.

Last year, on the fifth Wednesday of Easter, we discussed the pruning of the branches. God pruning our little shoots of ego can cause even more pain than that other type of cutting that they debated at the apostolic Council of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit taught the first generation of Christians that Baptism suffices to engraft Gentiles onto the vine. The Greek men rejoiced.

“You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” (John 15:3)

Almighty God has spoken in Christ, and we have believed. The “we” including: our parents, godparents, and/or other guardians who carried us to the baptismal font when we were infants, most of us. And all the other people whose strong faith has sustained us, especially our patron saints up in heaven who have prayed for us our whole lives.

Grim Babushka painting anon artistGod’s pruning the tendrils of our egos involves our constant engagement with the faith of our great family, the Church.

And this may be the most humbling thing of all: Namely, for me to acknowledge that my mind, powerful as it may be; acquainted with Shakespeare, or astrophysics, or high finance, or detailed mechanical engineering as it may be; as brilliant an orator, or tactician, or interior decorator, or pet trainer as any of us may be individually… These great minds of ours, in fact, can do no greater thing than to believe what countless generations of short, little, stubborn, simple-minded Russian babushkas have believed: that Jesus Christ is God.

Smart, clever, talented: all great things, to be sure. But humbly believing in what our grandparents and great-grandparents believed in, in what St. Francis and St. Joseph, neither of whom had any real delusions of grandeur, believed in–believing the faith of the Church, because it is bigger than me: that’s even greater than talent, smarts, skill, success.

Humbling, yes. But hopefully consoling also.

Resolution at the Circumcision

Circumcision of Christ

Tomorrow is the day our Lord was given His Holy Name, Jesus.

Let’s turn to our Blessed Mother. Let’s see her holding the eight-day-old baby. The first drop of His Precious Blood has just been shed by the knife that circumcised Him.

Our Lady is contemplating the destiny that lies ahead of her newborn son. She does not know exactly what His mission will require. But somewhere deep in her unimaginably pure heart, she knows that this little drop of His blood that just fell to the earth is just the beginning.

On the other hand, she also knows this: The brightness of the Holy Face in front of her will never be dimmed. She sees that a new light has come into the world, and the darkness will not overcome it.

ihs1How do we know, then, what resolution to make for AD 2015?

If we make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, we won’t follow any of them. Neither does it make sense to resolve to do something that is too hard, or something that is too easy. This narrows down the possibilities.

Of the remaining possible resolutions that I could make, there is one which is both the most difficult and the most full of hope. There is one which will cost me more than I think I can give, but fulfilling it will give me great happiness. If I really can do it, with God’s help, I will be a better man.

Let’s think of our Lady holding her baby on the eighth day–His name day, His circumcision day. Let’s contemplate that moment, and try to imagine all that she had in her heart, and then make a good resolution for 2015.

…If I might, a couple suggestions (if you are drawing a blank):

1. In 2015, I will pray every day, no matter what.

2. In 2015, I will go to Confession every month, no matter what.

3. Every month, I will give away something that I have—time, money, stuff—every month I will give away something to someone who could make good use of it.

Customs and Evangelization (Understanding Galatians)

The first age of history awaited the coming of Christ. Right after the Fall of man, the Lord promised a Redeemer Who would crush the head of Satan. Then He promised Abraham that the world’s blessing would come from among Abraham’s descendants. As a sign of his faith in this promise, Abraham submitted to circumcision.

Forty-two generations passed between the Lord’s promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in the womb of the Virgin. Plenty of time to build up a complex set of customs, even if your nation isn’t being given explicit commandments by Almighty God Himself. When you throw that into the mix, you wind up with customs that have all the trappings of sacredness. Circumcision may not be pretty, but sacred? Yes.

However: The actual coming of the promised Messiah requires a thorough re-evaluation of all customs, no matter how sacred. Yes, the Lord commanded circumcision as a sign of Abraham’s faith in what was to come. But now that the hope of ancient Israel has been fulfilled, and Abraham himself has rejoiced to see the day of Christ, maybe we don’t necessarily have to insist that all new Christian men submit to the mohel’s knife?

Indeed not. The Messiah said baptize, not circumcise. Circumcision was always a symbol of the interior reality anyway. As the Lord put it through the prophet Jeremiah (4:4), Remove the foreskins, not of your outer members, but of your hearts!

Now, certainly it is true that, without our established customs, we lose our way altogether. When in doubt—which we often are—it usually makes sense just to do things the way we have “always” done them. The longer we have been doing something in a particular way, the more likely that there are a million reasons, which we don’t even know, as to why we should, indeed, do it that way.

But no custom can bind us definitively unless Jesus Christ Himself instituted it. Christ Himself, and His love for every human being, must be the measure of all human customs.

We live in the age of the New Evangelization, which means we must consider ourselves the spiritual brothers and sisters of the Apostles and first Christians. A world that does not know the Savior awaits us, and that world needs Christ.

The world, though, does not necessarily need to be like us. Yes, like us, precisely to the extent that Christ has taken over our lives. Yes, like us, if “like us” means like the saints. But, otherwise, Christ wants everyone to be themselves. On the one hand, there are the basic rules of Christian living, the fundamental principles of decency, justice, and respect. Then, on the other hand, there is the breathtaking array of ways in which God has made us to be ourselves.

Our parish communities have excellent customs. Some of them may have been originated by the Apostles, like serving spaghetti dinners one Friday a month, or eating cookies after Mass, or having committees.

But: There are our community’s beautiful particular customs, and then there is the fundamental life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We always have to keep in mind that everyone is welcome to experience, and indeed everyone has a right to experience, the fundamental life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church right here in our parish-church buildings.

In other words, everyone has the right to hear the Word of God and to receive the sacraments from the hands of the priest, according to the rules established by a higher authority than us—and that is the fundamental reason why our buildings were built.

The more we keep this in mind, the more evangelical a community we will be.

Let’s Circumcise “Religious Freedom”

Before we get too excited about jumping on the “Ross Douthat Speaks My Mind!” bandwagon, let’s consider the flip side of the essay he published yesterday.

First of all: Yes. Who could disagree with his points…

1. A thesis in favor of sexual libertinism underlies current goverment attempts to compel religions to abandon their religion.

(We have to abandon our religion by paying for other people’s contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations; German Jews have to abandon their religion by waiting till their boys grow up before circumcizing them; certain chicken joints have to abandon their religion by giving the all-the-cool-people-are-doing-it thumbs-up to ‘gay marriage’…)

2. Why don’t the government agents in question just admit what they really want to accomplish–and quit pretending that they believe in religious freedom, when in fact they obviously don’t? They have their agenda; it makes sense to them; let them just say it, including the (currently unspoken) part: “Your religion is evil because it deprives people of the sexual freedom to which they have a right. Your evilness has no rights. You must be compelled to abandon it. You must concede that everyone has the right to sodomy/fruitless sex at will.”

Okay. Good point, Mr. Douthat. I agree. Truth would be served better if those trying to compel us just admitted all this.

BUT, amigos: I think this knife cuts with both edges. Let advocates of artificial contraception and sodomy speak honestly regarding what they favor.

But let us do likewise. The Lord did not consecrate us as apostles of ‘religious freedom.’ He consecrated us as apostles of His Gospel.

We do not propose “religious freedom.” We propose chastity; we propose that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should abide by our teachings regarding human sexuality. We propose that the one true God has revealed Himself in one Christ, Who founded one Church.

Douthat has it altogether right: The strife we face arises from particular disputed points of morality. Let the other side engage the disputed points forthrightly. But let us engage them forthrightly, too, and not play the lame religious-freedom “victim card.”

If we don’t believe that we are right on the issues themselves, then what are we doing? Why would anyone want to join a church that only asks for space to have a subculture where we ourselves follow our teachings in the privacy of our own ghetto?

The teachings of the Catholic Church are the way to freedom, life, and salvation for every human being. That’s our position. And if we suffer for holding it, it is also our position that such suffering helps our cause more than anything else ever could.

BUT: What about using whatever arguments are politically expedient, in order to save our institutions, which serve so many people?

Okay. If a court case making religious-freedom arguments keeps a hospital from having to close or sell itself to the highest non-Catholic bidder, I am all for it.

But can we sacrifice our mission to propose the imitation of Christ as the true way of life for man–can we sacrifice this, for the sake of political expediency? We happen to have perfectly good and convincing arguments to support all our positions, and none of these arguments require an appeal to the great nebula called “religious freedom.”

Why don’t we just make those arguments? That way, we would actually play to win, rather than just playing defense, hoping for a scoreless tie. (And it would also take us off the hook for defending the practice of cutting the penises of screaming little boys. Let the mohels defend that.)

Orphans and Freeborn Foreskins

I will not leave you orphans. (John 14:18)

When God created the human race, He did it with fatherly love. Adam and Eve had no human parents, but they were not orphans. God provided for them in every conceivable way. It was Satan, the father of lies, who led Adam and Eve away from the Father.

The Lord, however, had a plan to rescue us from the existential orphanage. In ancient times, God inaugurated a sign by which His children would be identified. For the first age of salvation history, the children of God were known by…circumcision.

[Listen, if you are squeamish about this subject, I am sorry. But this is sacred history.]

San Francisco activist Lloyd Schofield
So we hear our Lord Jesus promising us that He will not leave us orphans. Also we hear that out in a city in California, they are planning to put a new law to public vote. The law would make it illegal to circumcise infants.

To be clear, we know from the New Testament that the sacrament of circumcision pertained only to the Old Law. It is no longer necessary to circumcise baby boys as a sign of our covenant with God. So why am I bringing this up? Because I think reflecting a little bit on it will help us understand Christ’s promise about not leaving us orphans.

Continue reading “Orphans and Freeborn Foreskins”

Jerusalem Council, Maundy Mandate

The Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything. (John 14:26)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus to the Apostles at the Last Supper. He was explaining to them what would happen after He ascended into heaven.

That was the beginning of the Catholic Church.

The Lord Jesus had taught the Apostles many things while He was on the earth. There would be many other things He would teach them from heaven. As He promised, He sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church.

In the Acts of Apostles, St. Luke recounts the first Church Council. The situation was this: The Apostles had gone out from Jerusalem to preach the Gospel. In the surrounding countries, both Jews and non-Jews came to believe. This left the Apostles with an honest question.

Continue reading “Jerusalem Council, Maundy Mandate”

New Year

Sweet Hoya win over the team that embarrassed us twice in one week at the end of last season!

Makes a guy want to come clean for the foibles of ’09. Let me begin by acknowledging that:

1. I think I was unfair to Romeo and Juliet.

2. My sonnet about the Hoyas last February was kind of bitter.

…Here’s a New Year’s Day homily:

Christmas Day is such a holy and important day that it lasts for eight days. Christmas Day lasts from December 25 until today, New Year’s Day.

Everybody knows this. The greeting is: “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” They go together, Christmas and New Year’s. They are the beginning and end of the annual celebration of the birthday of God.

Continue reading “New Year”